Media communication, mass communication, political communication, and other aspects of social communication represent a dynamic academic field in contemporary central and Eastern Europe and Russia. In particular, communication on the societal level, which was the subject of the most visible and remarkable changes during the 1990s (reintroduction of “free” media and deep structural change of the media system, establishment of media and advertising markets, consequences of the commercialization of media), as well as some traces of older tradition and huge inspiration from western Europe and the USA, led to the establishment of communication and media studies as a new field of academic interest in many universities in the region. Some development can be found in studies of interpersonal and organizational communication, too, but those areas are traditionally covered by established fields, in which they have largely remained.
Various processes of social communication, including media and related issues (especially journalism), have attracted the attention of various disciplines, but communication did not become a self-sustaining field of academic research and university education in most of the central and eastern European countries (including the former Soviet Union) before the beginning of the 1990s. This does not mean that some topics understood as part of communication research and education nowadays did not appear in the region before, but no synthesizing theoretical approach looking for links between communication, media, society, and individuals was developed. The only exception was the “theory of journalism,” which developed in the post-war period as a theoretical and methodological framework for the role of media and journalism in “Soviet-type” societies.
The development of communication as an academic field in eastern Europe and Russia can be characterized by a set of distinctive features, among which the following are the most important: inspiration coming from western Europe and the USA, the fragmentation of “communication as a topic” into a variety of fields, the development of “theory of journalism,” and the focus on media and media communication after 1989.
Western and Overseas Inspirations
Before World War II, the development of the field was – at least in some countries of the region (for example, in former Czechoslovakia) – closely connected with developments in the rest of Europe. Some evidence of the influence of German “press science” (Zeitungswissenschaft) can be found before World War II. There was an attempt to establish a new field of applied media sociology called novinoveda (a literal translation of the German expression Zeitungswissenschaft) organized by a circle of sociologists, political and economic scientists, and journalists in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The work of Jan Amos Comenius (Komensky), a protestant Moravian educator and churchman of the early seventeenth century, was claimed to be the root of the tradition of modern thinking about media. In the inter-war period, there was a clear distinction between developments in central Europe and those in the Soviet Union, with its focus upon the role of journalism as a fundamental tool of propaganda. Many “institutes of journalism” were founded and some university departments of journalism were established during the 1920s and 1930s, with the university in former Leningrad as one of the most important ones. The journal ¸urnalist (“The journalist”), became representative of the whole field.
For many years after World War II, central and eastern Europe was under a strong and enforced influence of the Soviet Union, and links with the rest of Europe were weakened remarkably. Because of officially negative attitudes toward sociology and, to some extent, psychology, the field of communication was underdeveloped. Only in the late 1960s did some attempts to follow the changes taking place in western Europe appear, but these were weakened in the 1970s and 1990s. The situation has changed since the fall of the bipolar world in the early 1990s.
Communication as a Topic in Various Academic Fields
Within many academic fields, various communication processes and activities were studied before and after World War II but were never linked into one coherent academic field. There was a clear divide between interpersonal communication as an academic field on one hand and mass (media) communication as an academic field on the other. Both spheres of communication were studied by a variety of disciplines; however, the focus upon media communication and its role in society is quite clear. Among others, the following academic fields seem to be the most important sources for developing the communication field in the region.
Historiography, and its tradition of studying media and journalism history, was predominantly inspired by inter-war German and French traditions (e.g., N. Lenin and G. Zinovjev from the USSR, S. Jarkowski from Poland, N. B. Andreeff from Bulgaria, K. Hoch from Czechoslovakia). Journalism history developed after World War II as a part of the theory of journalism. Thanks to that, the history of journalism grew continuously and became one of the strongest disciplines of the restructured and newly established media and communication field of study in the 1990s (J. I. Gerasimova, USSR; M. Beránková, Czechoslovakia; M. Ivanov, Bulgaria).
Sociology, which was developing especially in the inter-war period (including Weberian sociology and the Zeitungswissenschaft tradition), and then during the 1960s, particularly in Poland, offered a possibility to analyze the relations between media, culture, and society even in the context of Soviet-type regimes (Kloskowska 1964).
Linguistics and the tradition of analyzing the role of language in communication processes were vivid, especially in the Prague Linguistic Circle (with Jacobson as one of the leading figures), with their “functionalistic” approach to language (the idea of a specific “journalistic language” was published in the late 1920s). The linguistic approach to media and communication continued in the post-war period, since the “Marxist linguistics” followed the main ideas of the functionalistic tradition. Most of the research on interpersonal, as well as institutional, communication took place within linguistics.
Literary theory and semiotics contributed to understanding the processes of communication, starting with the tradition of Russian formalism and Sklovskij’s study of narrativity down to Soviet semiotics. Especially Soviet semiotics, with Jurij Lotman as a leading figure and two centers – Moscow (Russia) and Tartu (Estonia, former USSR) – developed communication studies as a part of a more general interest in film, music, and painting.
Theory of Journalism and the Soviet Era
The role of media and the relations between media, political power, and society were in a sense central themes of Soviet-type societies. The highly centralized political and economic powers were dependent upon “manufacturing consent” within society by means of an effectively working propaganda system with mass media as the principal tool. The theoretical approach to media and their (desirable) role in society was under the strong influence of a Soviet “Marxist–Leninist theory of journalism,” which was focused upon measuring and improving the effectiveness and ideological control of media influence. The use of the word “journalism” refers both to the importance of journalistic work as a part of propaganda as well as to the fact that the officials were trying to avoid the terms “mass media” and “media” because of their connotations of a “western” sociology of media.
The “theory of journalism” was developed not only in the Soviet Union (S. M. Gurevic, E. P. Prochorov, N. G. Cernysevskij, among other) but also in other countries of the Soviet bloc (S. B. Stancev in Bulgaria, V. Hudec in Czechoslovakia, and others). The theory of journalism was sometimes understood as one of two parts of a more general “press science” (gazetoznanije in Russian; prasoznawstwo in Polish; German and Czech expressions mentioned above), with “history of journalism” as the other one. Being the fundamental theoretical framework for studying not only journalism itself but mass media (the “means of mass information and propaganda”) as a whole, theory of journalism was developed on two levels – the “general theory of journalism” and the “specific theory of journalism.” The former was focused upon the main common features that can be identified in any type of journalism and structured according to the main aspects of journalistic production (creativity, editorial work, analyses of final journalistic outputs, etc.); the latter studied specific features of journalism in different types of media (press journalism, radio journalism, television journalism, even film journalism). The dialectic and historical materialism, as defined by Marxism–Leninism, was understood as a general methodological frame of the theory, explicitly mentioning the ideas of V. I. Lenin on the role of the press. “Press science,” covering history of journalism and theory of journalism, became a main subject and methodological and theoretical background for curricula of schools of journalism and for research institutes, which were founded in all countries of the former Soviet bloc. In each country, at least one academic journal focused upon journalism and media was published (e.g., Polish Zeszyty Prasoznawcze [Journal of Press Science], with the remarkable personality of Walery Pisarek, professor of Jagellonian University in Krakow; Soviet Vestnik MGU – ¸urnalistika [Review of Moscow State University – Journalism]; Otázky √urnalistiky [Questions of Journalism] in Czechoslovakia). The Soviettype nondemocratic regimes were focused upon ways of improving the dissemination of ideology within the whole society and on effectiveness and control of the media as the main tool of this task. Therefore, surveys of public opinion were organized, too, and can be understood as a part of the pre-1989 milieu of media and communication research (e.g., the Mass Communication Research Centre in Budapest in the 1970s and 1980s).
However strong was the tendency toward unifying the field in the whole Soviet bloc, some differences can be found when comparing country to country. In Poland, as well as in some parts of former Yugoslavia (Slovenia), the strong tradition of Polish sociological thinking led to the development of a more sociological approach (e.g., Goban-Klas 1978). In former Czechoslovakia, the tradition of historiography led to the development of journalism history and the linguistic tradition in the study of “journalistic language.”
Part of the theoretical and historical approach to journalism was also a study of media and journalism in western Europe and the USA. This study, generally labeled as “criticism of bourgeois media and journalism,” represented the strongest link with media and communication in the west, and some of the academics established in this field became leading figures in restructuring the whole discipline in the 1990s (e.g., Y. N. Zassoursky, professor of Moscow State University, in the Soviet Union and later in Russia).
Media and Communication Studies After 1989
After the Cold War period and collapse of the bipolar world, the concept of the free press was (re)introduced in the countries of central and eastern Europe (and with some limitation in the former Soviet Union and then in Russia), and the media system in each country was transformed. The fundamental changes and quick and massive development of mass communication, as well as the inspiration coming from western countries, led to increasing interest in studying media and communication. The pre-1989 theoretical and methodological framework of Marxist–Leninist theory and history of journalism was abandoned and journalistic education was transformed. New schools and departments of media studies, media and communication, mass communication, etc. have been established.
There is a plurality of normative and theoretical approaches, mostly based upon the interests and training of people who established media and communication studies as an academic field. In some countries (Hungary, Poland, former Czechoslovakia, and contemporary Czech Republic), a clear distinction has been created between journalism on one hand and (mass) media communication studies and research on the other. Journalism as a part of higher education was transformed into a vocational (skill oriented) training field in many schools, with media and communication study as its academic background. Departments of media studies were established, and not only do research but also develop their own curricula of media studies and produce their own graduates as media and communication experts. New media journals have appeared in many countries.
In other countries (some schools in Slovakia, Russia, etc.), journalism remains an academic field but its content and theoretical framework have changed fundamentally and shifted toward media and mass communication studies, also introducing the concepts of media literacy and media education for the general public as topics of general education.
The interest in interpersonal communication and speech communication has remained nonintegrated and is still mostly connected either with linguistics (especially with studying national languages of nations and states in the region) or with psychology (mostly as an applied or practical set of skills).
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